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Bill Clinton Goes Off Reservation On Bain Attacks

Following the path of Democratic politicians like Cory Booker and Deval Patrick, and commentators such as Harold Ford, Jr., Ed Rendell and Steven Rattner, former President Clinton appeared on CNN last night and went off message on the issue of Bain Capital and Mitt Romney’s business record:

President Bill Clinton veered sharply off message Thursday, telling CNN that Mitt Romney’s business record at Bain Capital was “sterling.”

“I don’t think that we ought to get into the position where we say ‘This is bad work. This is good work,'” Clinton said. “The man who has been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold.”

Clinton also went on to say that Romney’s time at Bain Capital represented a “good business career.”

The Obama campaign is in the third week of an all-out assault on Romney’s time as a corporate buyout specialist — accusing the GOP nominee of bankrupting companies and laying off workers all while pocketing a profit for  himself and investors.

Video:

This isn’t terribly surprising, actually. It’s been rather obvious for weeks now that there are a host of leading Democrats who aren’t entirely thrilled with the campaign’s attacks on the private equity industry. More importantly, as Aaron Blake notes, this suggests that the shelf-life of the Obama campaign’s Bain attacks is coming to an end:

Obama’s campaign has shifted its message from attacking Bain’s handling of certain companies to talking broadly about how being in the private equity business doesn’t prepare one to be president. But Clinton’s comments appear to undermine both arguments.

He’s saying both that Romney’s business career is an asset, and that when it’s combined with his term as governor, there’s little doubt that he’s qualified to be president.

In the end, the result of the Obama campaign’s focus on Bain has been little-to-no traction in the polls and what has become a highlight reel of Democratic heavies praising both Bain and Romney’s business career.

One has to wonder how much longer it will continue.

Indeed, I think it is. The question is why the campaign decided to go down this road now. When Romney’s Republican opponents, principally Newt Gingrich, unveiled their Bain attacks they didn’t do it in September or October of 2011, they did it in the week between the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, with the purpose of putting a halt to Romney’s momentum before he ended up scoring so many victories in January that the race would have essentially been over after Florida as it was in 2008. In that respect, one could consider the attack a success because Romney lost South Carolina and the race continued long past Florida. If this line of attack had been used earlier in the Republican race, it likely would have not have had the same impact it did by being used so close to the election.

The Obama campaign didn’t go down that road. Instead of waiting until September or October, when far more Americans will be paying attention to the election and the impact of any election meme is likely to be far more long-lasting, they unveiled this attack in May. Even if the issue did have an impact in the polls, which doesn’t appear to be the case, that impact would be unlikely to last all the way through the campaign season. Perhaps the fact that they unveiled the attack now is an indication that they didn’t believe it would have much of an impact on the race, but that placing it out there now would perhaps influence the overall public perception of Romney. Of course, if that was their strategy it seems to have failed given the fact that Romney’s favorability numbers have increased over the past month or so, just when the Bain issue was all over the media again.

Already you can see the Obama campaign changing the focus of their attacks on Romney to his record as Governor which is, quite obviously, far more relevant to what kind of President he might be than a distorted attack on the private equity industry was. Within a month or so, it’s quite likely we won’t hear many Obama surrogates even talking about Bain Capital any more.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    So Bill Clinton has thrown in the towel too?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Not surprising in the least. Whatever his faults Clinton is one smart dude and a master politician. Attacking the free enterprise system might get you cheers and other accolades in a media newsroom, on a college campus, or at a cocktail party on the Upper West Side, but it’s a losing strategy on Main Street. I’m virtually certain that Team Obama itself is well aware of this. I suspect this whole Bain Capital line of attack merely is a way to gin up campaign contributions from the loopy left and that they’ll drop it immediately after the conventions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  3. MBunge says:

    Bill Clinton is more responsible than probably anyone else for making the Democratic Party just as solicitous of corporate power as the GOP. The role that played in our current mess unsurprisingly escapes both him and Doug.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  4. MBunge says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “Whatever his faults Clinton is one smart dude and a master politician.”

    He never got 50% of the public to vote for him for President.

    He turned health care reform into such an incredible mess that he couldn’t even get Democrats to vote for it.

    His leadership left the Democratic Party in the worst electoral, and probably spiritual, shape it had been in for 50 years.

    Reports of Bill Clinton’s political genius have been greatly exaggerated.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  5. JKB says:

    They might gin up contributions from the loopy left but as we see, those in the know, know the money resides with the evil capitalists. Many of whom are willing to contribute to the Dems for indulgences, as long as they aren’t attacked. But the constant barrage has roused the money men from their slumber and they are finding that perhaps this socialist stuff isn’t so profitable after all.

    College students don’t have any money, journalists don’t have much money and those at the cocktail parties on the Upper West Side who weren’t invited for their wit and charm, make their money buying and selling businesses for fun and profit. They have the money and as we’ve seen the Dems are having money problems. Hmmm?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  6. Rob in CT says:

    Attacking the free enterprise system

    Attacking what Bain does in the particular != attacking free enterprise.

    They have the money

    Indeed. The Dems are bought too. What a lovely political system we have.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  7. Again, the “Bain attack” was a “I created 100,000 jobs” counter-attack.

    It’s “over” or “defeated” when Romney comes back as a jobs creator.

    See also a cut by another GOP stalwart, Meg Whitman slashing 30,000 at HP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  8. jan says:

    @MBunge:

    Wow, turning on Bill Clinton, in order to save face for Obama! I would classify that as pure political derangement syndrome. At least Clinton had the political savvy to engage with the republican Congress he had, enacting policies derived through them that produced a healthy economic climate. Obama, though, wasted his first 2 years with huge democratic majorities in Congress, and has basically been MIA, above it all, during the remainder of this term when the House was taken over by Republicans. Obama is in his glory when he has only adulation and no opposition. That is not a leader!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 9

  9. Rob in CT says:

    Obama’s tried engagement. It didn’t work. At all. The GOP declared at the outset they had no interest in negotiating (one term president, highest priority. Look it up), and they meant it. Obama has, belatedly, figured that out.

    Clinton was ok – not great, not terrible (which is where I’d put Obama). He was also dealing with a somewhat different GOP. Oh, they were well on the road to the present-day GOP (led by the loathesome Newt), but there were still some holdovers. Also, there was a booming economy (note: that the GOP said couldn’t possibly happen because Clinton raised taxes) which may have helped matters. Some of the compromises that were made now look to have been mistakes (Glass-Steagal repeal, fer instance).

    Obama did waste some time in the early going, thinking he was actually going to be able to peal off GOP votes. This was naive of him, and had a cost.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  10. Rob in CT says:

    By the way, this is almost certainly accurate:

    I suspect this whole Bain Capital line of attack merely is a way to gin up campaign contributions from the loopy left and that they’ll drop it immediately after the conventions.

    Or rather, the Bain line of a attack is actually a counter-attack against the whole “job creator” meme, which is in turn a counter-attack against the idea of raising taxes on the rich. It’s all rhetoric over tax policy. It’s not like anyone is proposing to shut Bain down or pursue any substantive reform of the financial sector (Dodd-Frank will likely end up watered down to nothing but theatre. The pretense of regulation, complete with paperwork, but w/o any teeth). In the end, the Democrats – Obama most certainly included – are all about maintaining the status quo. From their perspective, Wall St. is the golden campaign donor goose.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. al-Ameda says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Obama did waste some time in the early going, thinking he was actually going to be able to peal off GOP votes. This was naive of him, and had a cost.

    Basically, conservative Republicans have not accepted the last two elected Democratic presidents – Clinton and Obama – as legitimate. It really is that simple and it explains why our politics are now so dysfunctional. As soon as Clinton was elected the efforts were already underway to remove him from office by any means – it culminated in an impeachment. As soon as Obama was elected, the conspiracists were out, and Republicans publicly announced their intention to not govern positively, and here we are.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  12. Fiona says:

    Attacking what Bain does in the particular != attacking free enterprise.

    Agreed. Bain Capital is more a symptom of “free” enterprise gone awry, where profits are made by gutting companies and sending workers home. But these attacks won’t last for long. One only has to look to the roster of Obama’s economic advisors to know that he’s basically in the bag for Wall Street.

    Clinton, the guy who signed on for the repeal of Glass-Steagal, which had effectively regulated American Banks since the Depression, was also always in the bag for Wall Street. Thus, it’s no surprise to see him defending Bain.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  13. Jay Dubbs says:

    This argument doesn’t play that well with the people who have connections with the Wall Street types, thats why you see some Northeast Democrats balking at the Bain message.

    But I think it does resonate with the Main Street types, especially every time that Mitt comes up with his I’m a job creator argument. Plus it ties Mitt with Wall Street, which is not exactly a plus in places like VA, OH, NC, CO, AZ.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  14. MBunge says:

    @jan: “Wow, turning on Bill Clinton, in order to save face for Obama!”

    What was inaccurate or unfair about anything I said?

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  15. WR says:

    @JKB: And in the world according to JKB, the only people who count are those who have money. All elected officials must work only to benefit them — to try to help poor people, or blue collar workers or students — that’s for suckers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  16. Rob in CT says:

    I’m guessing Mike was never a Clinton fan. There is a faction of the Democratic party that really doesn’t like Clinton, and never has. To them, he’s a Corporate Democrat, and emblematic of a turn taken by the party that they hate with a passion.

    10 years ago I’d have scoffed. 10 years ago I wasn’t a Democrat. 10 years ago I was just starting to really pay attention to politics. But I digress. The Dems who have been complaining about the DLC corporate Dem phenomenon are looking more and more correct to me as time goes on. If both major parties are hand maidens to the owners of big businesses, how is that going to play out? Hmm.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  17. Idiot says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Like welfare reform, a budget deal, NAFTA, supporting Clinton in Serbia…. Yup, there was no cooperation at all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  18. Jib says:

    The biggest deregulation of finance happened under Clinton. The deregulation of finance is the central cause of the great recession, which means history will hold Clinton responsible for some of the carnage since he signed much of the offending legislature.

    Plus the man has made huge money from Wall Street since he left the WH.

    This is not a meme, it is the shuffling of the political deck. It is the left version of what the repubs went through with the tea party. If McCain had won in 2008, the dems would have gone through a grass roots revolt in 2009 instead of the repubs and it would have focused on anti-Wall Street.

    Obama’s re-election hinges on attacking Romney through Bain, it is way Romney has always been defeated, even before the great recession. If he does not do it, he loses, and the Dems will go through grass root rebellion against the Washington Establishment (i.e. pro-Wall Street dems) just like the repubs did with the tea party.

    This is not the first time Clinton has gone off message in a campaign, he did it on his own wifes campaign. And he will do it again. And people like Doug who desperately do not want the de-regulation of finance to be an political issue will squawk ever time this happens that ‘THE MEME IS DEAD’

    Keep whistling past the graveyard Doug, cause if you stop, you might just hear footsteps.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. jan says:

    @Rob in CT:

    “Obama’s tried engagement. It didn’t work. At all. The GOP declared at the outset they had no interest in negotiating (one term president, highest priority. Look it up), and they meant it. Obama has, belatedly, figured that out.”

    There have been many articles written about Obama not engaging in dialogues with members of his own party, let alone the leadership of the opposition party. Even the media is being stranded from being a part of stories dealing with inside the WH. However, it’s not worth arguing about these facts, because if you don’t want to see or admit this, then living in denial will be the safehouse of choice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 8

  20. al-Ameda says:

    @Idiot:
    None of that happened during the Obama years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. Rob in CT says:

    Jan: the fact is that from the outset you had a guy elected POTUS who said over and over he wanted to compromise and has, in fact, offered to do so. On the other hand, you had the Congressional leadership of the other party publicly declare that making him a 1-termer was their highest priority, followed by declaring that they would make healthcare reform “his Waterloo.”

    You can try and spin that as much as you’d like, and you can’t unmake it. Funny you should speak of denial.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  22. Fiona says:

    @jan:

    However, it’s not worth arguing about these facts, because if you don’t want to see or admit this, then living in denial will be the safehouse of choice.

    Oh please Jan–you don’t know fact from the right wing fiction you copy from Fox and other like-minded sites.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  23. MBunge says:

    @Rob in CT: “There is a faction of the Democratic party that really doesn’t like Clinton, and never has.”

    This is more about how I wish we won’t see the same kind of irrationality of today’s conservativism sweeping through the left in another 10 to 20 years.

    Whether Bill Clinton was a good President is debateable. What is really not arguable is that Bill Clinton was a gigantic disaster for the Democratic Party and the liberal policy agenda in general. On the partisan side, I supposed you could say he just accelerated a process that was going to happen anyway. On the policy side, though, both substantively and thematically, Clinton may have done more damage to liberalism than any conservative ever has. Yet, he and his approach to politics is the one that many liberals use as their template for the way things ought to be be. It’s flatly a crazy understanding of the man and his political legacy and I fear what such non-rational idolization is going to lead to in the future.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  24. Drew says:

    Like I said yesterday…….the Obama apologist spin machine in overdrive. Get me some high quality lubricant!!!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  25. Kinky Beats says:

    @Drew:

    This entire thing is misguided. The argument that people here and the media seem to be missing is not whether or not private equity is good or bad, but whether or not success in the private equity world translates to success as an American president.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. jan says:

    @Fiona:

    Actually, I read a myriad of publications, as well as simply see the reality of how the economy is turning around me. Where do you get your facts from?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  27. An Interested Party says:

    Get me some high quality lubricant!!!!!

    Really? Surely you already had some of that lubricant from being one of Romney’s fluffers…or perhaps you lent it to Jan…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  28. jan says:

    @Rob in CT:

    “the fact is that from the outset you had a guy elected POTUS who said over and over he wanted to compromise and has, in fact, offered to do so. On the other hand, you had the Congressional leadership of the other party publicly declare that making him a 1-termer was their highest priority, followed by declaring that they would make healthcare reform “his Waterloo.”

    Where has Obama compromised? Yes, McConnell made a statement about Obama being a one-term president, and the HC reform was “his waterloo.” However, if you look at national poll numbers, the public never wanted this kind of HC. He nevertheless disregarded the voice of the people and passed it on Chistmas Eve. How is that showing any kind of compromise — not one republican voted for this huge piece of legislation that impacts something like 17% of the economy!

    If a republican president had done the same thing, the howls from the progressive left would have been deafening, and the frustration would have been far more heated than just saying the prez was doomed for one term.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  29. Jeremy R says:

    Bill Clinton gaffing it up was probably half the reason Hillary didn’t win the Democratic Party presidential nomination. His patronage pols, assorted allies from his term, former staffers and strategists, etc are all consummate politicians who seem to forget their art and attack their own side at the most inopportune times during President Obama’s term, which has in general made them a drag on advancing his agenda, and that’s been a problem as they make up many of the paid TV news contributors and frequent political commentators (see: Carville, Rendell, Lanny Davis).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  30. Rob in CT says:

    However, if you look at national poll numbers, the public never wanted this kind of HC.

    Actually, a large chunk of the people who don’t like the ACA are pissed off lefties who wanted single-payer, or at least a public option in the plan. If you lump them together with the people who think the ACA is scary socialism, yes, you get a majority. But that doesn’t make much sense.

    The healthcare reform debate raged for the better part of a year. During that time, GOPers were tripping over themselves disavowing previously held positions regarding healthcare reform (see also: Romney, Mitt). The ACA reform is a tepid corporatist reform that is substantivelly similar to Romneycare and other Right-of-center proposals from the past. But once it was actually on the table, proposed by Democrats? Evil socialism that must be stopped at all costs. Waterloo.

    How is that showing any kind of compromise — not one republican voted for this huge piece of legislation

    It’s funny you think that supports your argument, when it actually supports mine.

    The GOP position was Waterloo, not compromise. There is poll data that indicates that, from their perspective, this was an intelligent political decision. GOP voters are much, much, much less open to compromise than Dem or Indy voters. If you want, I can dig up the data.

    Better yet, riddle me this: what proposed changes to the ACA were made by the GOP that were rejected by the Dems, exactly? The only thing I remember was a BS feint toward the Wyden-Bennett plan. The moment liberal pundits started talking about that plan with interest, the GOP cosponsors jumped ship.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  31. Moosebreath says:

    jan,

    “Where has Obama compromised?”

    1. making the stimulus roughly 1/3 tax cuts, in spite of liberal economists saying they would be less effective than spending.

    2. taking single payer off the table early on in the health care process.

    3. adopting what had historically been a Republican model for health care reform (until it was actually supported by Obama, at which point it became the greatest threat to liberty until cup size limits were proposed).

    4. accepting extension of the Bush tax cuts for earners over $250,000.

    5. adopting cap-and-trade, another Republican idea until it became supported by Obama.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  32. Rob in CT says:

    Admittedly, with regard to healthcare reform, the compromises made were basically made with industry players, because the GOP wasn’t negotiating for anything and thus there were no deals to be made. The deals were made with Pharma & the Healthcare Insurance industries directly (hence the death of the public option, hence the mandate, etc).

    Cap & trade is another perfect example of what’s been going on. The market-based option – cap & trade was supposedly the preferred Republican policy. But once sh*t gets real? It’s horrible socialism, central planning, cats & dogs living together! Now the party line is that there is no anthropogenic climate change threat and thus there should be no policy to deal with it. What will be the party line tomorrow? My guess is that it will be “yes, climate change is bad, and the liberals are to blame.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  33. al-Ameda says:

    @Drew:

    Get me some high quality lubricant!!!!!

    Just maybe, you need a laxative?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  34. jan says:

    @Moosebreath:

    1. You mean various tax cuts for contituencies like the SS & SSI recipients receiving the $250 checks, payroll tax credits? This was hardly a compromise. It was Obama, (acting in an FDR mode) giving small monetary considerations and perks to various targeted groups.

    2. There was never enough support for the single payer system.

    3. The health care mandate was an experimental concept, implemented by Romney only in the state of MA. It has since been replaced by other models to reduce HC costs, such as more competition of HC companies across state lines etc. There was no compromise here. As already stated, the majority of people wanted no part of the HC bill that was passed without any bipartisan support. You’re totally parsing and spinning in an attempt to fill that ‘compromise’ hole that Obama has not fulfilled..

    4. The extension of the Bush tax credit was a reluctant decision, and one that could have been decided much earlier than it was done. There was no compromise here either, just political expediency on the part of Obama and his advisers.Also, while it served the purpose of not crashing the markets, the short leash on the extension did not offer any window of opportunities for people to trust the government more, and go out and invest their money to expand the economy.

    5. Republicans and Bush opposed cap and trade, refusing to sign the Kyoto Agreement until other major economies like China and Russia did…which, of course, would never happen. Here in CA, we have a version of cap and trade, which is just another piece of our job-killer policies, in perfect harmony with our public sector pensions, and our growing 16, or is it 17, billion dollar deficit.
    .

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  35. jan says:

    Another person who has recently gone off the democratic reservation is Artur Davis.

    He was a significant supporter of Obama, seconding his nomination for president, even being considered “The Obama from Alabama.”Unlike Obama, though, he went to public not private schools, obtaining scholarships for his higher education, and was able to break with the democratic herd to vote against obamacare and, for ethics reasons, withdrew his support from Rangel. In a similar fashion he has talked about the democratic party leaving him (similar to what Reagan said), rather than he leaving it.

    Some of his reasons are the following:

    I have regularly criticized an agenda that would punish businesses and job creators with more taxes just as they are trying to thrive again. I have taken issue with an administration that has lapsed into a bloc by bloc appeal to group grievances when the country is already too fractured: frankly, the symbolism of Barack Obama winning has not given us the substance of a united country.

    For some reason, while the country becomes more polarized and alienated from each other, depleted of it’s financial assets, with less hope for the future, Obama supporters seem to be on board for more of the same, in calling for him to have a second term. It has the same supporter sensibilities/mentality as if, after going though a Bush 2nd term, they called for yet a 3rd term.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  36. Drew says:

    Clinton revenge. When it’s OK for the Clinton’s to go off the reservation you know the inside skinny is Obama is on the ropes.

    Tee-he-he

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  37. jukeboxgrad says:

    rob:

    The Dems are bought too. What a lovely political system we have. … If both major parties are hand maidens to the owners of big businesses, how is that going to play out?

    It would be good if we had a two-party system.

    fiona:

    One only has to look to the roster of Obama’s economic advisors to know that he’s basically in the bag for Wall Street. Clinton, the guy who signed on for the repeal of Glass-Steagal, which had effectively regulated American Banks since the Depression, was also always in the bag for Wall Street.

    Obama, like Clinton, will be remembered as one of our best Republican presidents. Check this out:

    I think Bill Clinton was the best Republican president we’ve had in a while

    You’ll never guess who said that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0